Wednesday, December 31, 2008

CNET's 5 Technology Predictions For 2009

CNET's top 5 predictions for the new year include:

5  The decline of portable GPS
4  Mind control video games go commercial!!
3  Devices with Google's Android operating system will outsell the iphone
2  Bandwidth riots 
1  Biggest security breach ever

Check out the video explanations here.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Typealyzer Analyzes Blog Personality

The Typealyzer applies the Meyers-Briggs personality test to blogs.  Try it here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Big Business Of Memory and Cognitive Enhancement

An aging population, an economy built on ideas, increasing competition at top high schools and universities…there’s no shortage of explanations for why cognitive and memory enhancement is poised to grow into a massive industry. Who wouldn’t want to feel smarter, sharper, and more on the ball? As an already medicated society, we’re collectively making as shift from “making the sick healthy” to “protecting and enhancing the already healthy.”
Today you can look treat yourself to various natural enhancement options. Start with a nice cup of tea, as the University of Newcastle Plant Research Center has found that both black and green tea can improve memory and prevent Alzheimer’s. Still thirsty? Try a Brainiac, the hip, functional beverage enhanced with “soy phosphatidylserine (PS), ginkgo biloba, and other powerful antioxidants at the forefront of brain science.”
Once you’re thoroughly hydrated the Brain Fitness Program DVD by PBS offers a “scientifically-based set of brain exercises” to improve memory and a range of cognitive functions.
If all else fails, just go for a run or play a game of football. Among neuroscientists, physical exercise is viewed as the ultimate cognitive enhancer (certainly the most effective): “fitness training slows the age-related shrinkage of the frontal cortex, which is important for executive function. In rodents, exercise increases the number of capillaries in the brain, which should improve blood flow, and therefore the availability of energy, to neurons. Exercise may also help the brain by improving cardiovascular health, preventing heart attacks and strokes that can cause brain damage. Finally, exercise causes the release of growth factors, proteins that increase the number of connections between neurons, and the birth of neurons in the hippocampus, a brain region important for memory" (from the NYtimes).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Love, Sex, And Robots

Ever since David Levy's book hit the shelves last year, robot love (perhaps more specifically robot sex) has been a hot topic (call it the "sexy singularity"). Levy's prediction that by mid century these robot-human relationships will become commonplace, has been met with skeptical excitement and artistic reaction. Consider the current "Sex Lives of Robots" at the Museum of Sex in NYC.

From all the hoopla an obvious question has arisen: "Is it cheating to have sex with a robot?" And what if that robot is equipped with AI emotion technology (apparently some sex dolls already come with a heartbeat that accelerates throughout the sex act)? One wonders if it will be this question of sexual fidelity, ahead of all others, that will force humanity to legally consider the rights of robotic entities.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Scientists Extract Images Directly From Brain

Researchers from Japan’s ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories have developed a breakthrough process of analyzing changes in a participants cerebral blood flow to reconstruct and display viewed images. This breakthrough process of extracting images directly from the brain has so far been used only with black letters on a white background. However, researchers say that as the technology improves and the computer program learns to associate nuanced cerebral states with complex mental images, we could, within, the decade learn to extract these complex images directly from patients' brains. Full story at the pink tentacle.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Free Associating With The Superbrain And The Problem Of Context Switching

Often, the most fascinating online discoveries come from meandering through the internet’s “series of tubes” without a set agenda or ultimate goal. This is web-surfing at it’s best. It’s like linking up with a massive mind and free associating until you discover something that’s worth a closer look. It was on one of these excursions that I stumbled upon the Monkey No-Climb and thought, I wish that a web browser would, like wikipedia, include a series of related links at the bottom of the page; as in: “users who viewed this page also viewed this one.” This would enable a new level of free association, leading to a higher frequency of wild, unexpected discoveries.

It’s worth noting however, that these content excursions, while stimulating, lack the feeling of enrichment that comes from thoroughly absorbing information. Something is lost in the cavalcade of media.

Edward R. Tufte, the Yale design and statistics legend and author of several superb books on information design, discusses this issue in his book, Envisioning Information. He says:

“In user interfaces for computers, a problem undermining information exchange between human and software is ‘constant context switches. By this we mean that the user is not presented with one basic display format and one uniform style of interaction, but instead, with frequent changes: a scatterplot is present; it goes away, and is replaced by a menu; the menu goes away, ,and is replaced by the scatterplot; and so on…users constantly have to adjust to a changing visual environment rather than focusing on the data. The user is also forced to remember things seen in one view so that he or she can use the other view effectively. This means that the users short-term memory is occupied with the incidentals rather than the significant issues of analysis.’

Although this explanation might not resonant as well with the younger, hyper media literate generations, it's conclusions, to the extend that they comment of human facilities of sight, hearing, and information processing, seem universal and timeless. It explains why consistent web design interfaces, like the pages of wikipedia, are so valuable.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Mouse Celebrates 40-yr Anniversary

On this day in 1968, visionary computer scientist Douglas Engelbart used a mouse to demonstrate the potential of computer programs. Forty years later the mouse looks sleeker but exists in essentially the same form. Read about the demonstration (and how the mouse helped launch the computer revolution) here.

Monday, December 8, 2008

H.M., Famous Amnesia Patient, Dies At 82

The story of H.M. has been indispensable for psychology and neuroscience researchers, and undeniably fascinating to the public at large and the many students who read about him in textbooks.

Lacking the ability to make new memories after a operation to ameliorate epileptic seizures, H.M. (or Henry Gustav Molaison) left a massive legacy in brain science not only because of his physical condition, but also because of the kindness and incredible cooperation he showed to the researchers whom became his friend. Although he could only retain new memories for 20 seconds, his willingness to share all we could remember helped scientists uncover the integral role of the hippocampos and the important disctinction between implicit and explicit memory.

Full story here.

Friday, December 5, 2008

"Eyeborg Man" Plans To Replace Eye With Video Camera

Wired reports today that Rob Spence, a 36 year old Canadian filmmaker who lost his eye in a childhood shooting accident, plans to replace his current prosthetic eye with an ocular video camera. The original cyborg man, Steve Mann, help Spence on his quest to become the Eyeborg man. Spence will literally have the potential to film everything he sees (except for his dreams), making him a superb candidate for personality capture. The trick, once again, is going to be organizing the bountiful video footage. A feat that becomes possible with the arrival of the semantic web in all its multimedia-savvy, search engine glory.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

What Good Is Memorization In The Age Of Google?

The younger sister of a good friend of mine recently enrolled at Princeton. She has said that "in the future knowledge won't be valued as much as the ability to access information." So what role does memorization play today? Should students still have to memorize dates and poetic passages? Not according to writer and businessman Don Tapscott. In the Telegraph, Tapscott opines that in the age of wikipedia and google, schoolteachers must adjust their to curricula to teach concepts and methods of thinking. Sounds good, but what exactly is lost when we outsource memorization? Are we loosing a necessary developmental brain process? Could the ability to retain information, somehow improve our ability to have creative thought or fruitful analysis? Does the brain exercise of memorization improve other aspects of cognition? Or, does outsourcing laborious memorization free up our cognitive load and allow us to dedicate more brain power to the really exciting conceptual, technological, and creative breakthroughs?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Robot Invented To Explore Other Planets Ends Up On Kanye West's Blog

The GroundBot! A Swedish designed spherical robot designed to roll 6 mph over any terrain. So stylish, so design-conscious that it ended up of Kanye West's popular blog of MP3's, swimsuit models, concept cellphones, and of course, uncomfortable, avant-guard chairs. Check out the link for video footage of the GroundBot in action.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The State Of The Household Robot

Natalie Angier, in her recent NYtimes Science article discusses the dream that is (and has been) the household robot. It seems, that like flying cars, the prerequisite technological breakthroughs have not yet occurred to make the dream a reality.
In the short but interesting article Angier discusses: the etymology of the word robot (the Czech word "robota" meaning slave), the striking specificity that restricts many of our robots in the field (a welding robot transfered from an assembly line to an auto shop would likely kill someone within seconds), and the how the boundaries between ourselves and our "robotas" blurs, as we walk around linked to and loving our iphones, bluetooth headsets, and blackberrys.

Monday, November 24, 2008

From Literacy To Visuality: As Technology Shifts, Culture Bends

In the Screen Issue of the New York Times Magazine, Kevin Kelly discusses the modern-day Gutenberg revolution, or "how the moving image is upending the printed word." Kelly sees the proliferation of video technology (and amateur video artists) fueling our collective visual appetite. We are pervasively and resoundingly moving away from the word. We are becoming a people of the moving image, where literacy gives way to "visuality."

But Kelly reminds us that just as "Gutenberg's press did not fully unleash text," youtube, and the hand held video camera cannot fully unleash visuality. We need tech innovations that evolve visual consumption in addition to visual production. Just as the world needed literacy innovations (like punctuation, quotation marks, table of contents, and footnotes) to efficiently wield literacy, we need visuality innovations for visuality to blossom into prominance.

For full blown visuality, Kelly says, we should be able to index film, peruse table of contents, search for elements of mis-en-scene. We need to be able to, as google has noted on their blog, use a search engine to find a particular shot in a movie and conveniently and persuasively compare it to a particular shot in another movie. For this, search engines must understand video, not just text. This is the hope of the semantic web, and something Viewdle is fast pursuing.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hollywood Looks To Nasa Roboticists For Realism

As Wired magazine reports today, Wall-E director, Andrew Stanton, used hard science to create the cute little robot. During development he visited Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to gather insight into how robots move, think, and learn.
Now Nasa is looking for creative input from students all around the county. They recently announced a contest to name the next Mars rover, scheduled to take off in 2009. Students age 5-18 are eligible.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Long Now Foundation Proposes A Clock For The Ages

From The Long Now Foundation website, a fascinating introduction to the clock that ticks just once a year:

Civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span. The trend might be coming from the acceleration of technology, the short-horizon perspective of market-driven economics, the next-election perspective of democracies, or the distractions of personal multi-tasking. All are on the increase. Some sort of balancing corrective to the short-sightedness is needed-some mechanism or myth which encourages the long view and the taking of long-term responsibility, where 'long-term' is measured at least in centuries. Long Now proposes both a mechanism and a myth. It began with an observation and idea by computer scientist Daniel Hillis:

"When I was a child, people used to talk about what would happen by the year 2000. For the next thirty years they kept talking about what would happen by the year 2000, and now no one mentions a future date at all. The future has been shrinking by one year per year for my entire life. I think it is time for us to start a long-term project that gets people thinking past the mental barrier of an ever-shortening future. I would like to propose a large (think Stonehenge) mechanical clock, powered by seasonal temperature changes. It ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium."

Such a clock, if sufficiently impressive and well engineered, would embody deep time for people. It should be charismatic to visit, interesting to think about, and famous enough to become iconic in the public discourse. Ideally, it would do for thinking about time what the photographs of Earth from space have done for thinking about the environment. Such icons reframe the way people think.

Monday, November 17, 2008

10 Year Old USB Gets A Makeover

Wired reports on the USB 3.0. The devices will likely first start showing up on HD video cameras but the 10-fold speed increase will start greatly reduce transfer time of all kinds of uploads: images, sounds, videos, memories...

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Incomplete Blueprint Of Life

From The New York Times:
Scientists have learned that the canonical “genes” account for an embarrassingly tiny part of the human genome: maybe 1 percent of the three billion paired subunits of DNA that are stuffed into nearly every cell of the body qualify as indisputable protein codes. Scientists are also learning that many of the gene-free regions of our DNA are far more loquacious than previously believed, far more willing to express themselves in ways that have nothing to do with protein manufacture (full article).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chess, Mold, Consciousness: The Mysterious Phenomenon Of Emergence

Nova's Science Now explores one of the most far reaching and fascinating topics in the sciences: emergence. Click here for a video exploring emergence, an interview with John Holland of the Santa Fe Institute (colleague of Cormac McCarthy) and a special bonus video of a brief history of emergence set to music.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Google Searches Help Track Disease Outbreaks

The New York Times reports
that new tracking tools from ", the company’s philanthropic unit, suggest that it may be able to detect regional outbreaks of the flu a week to 10 days before they are reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."
Try out web search tracking for yourself at

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Touch Bionics Releases Commercially Available Bionic Hand After 40 Years Of Research

The new iLimb from Touch Bionics possesses tiny motors in each digit that respond to electrical impulses in the arms muscle (called myoelectric control). The hand enables unprecedented bionic dexterity (picture gallery here).

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg Says Each Year We Share Double

At the Web 2.0 conference last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, pronounced “I would expect that next year, people will share twice as much information as they share this year, and next year, they will be sharing twice as much as they did the year before.” His proclamation, now called “Zuckerberg’s Law,” seems linked to Moore’s Law (it’s unclear if that was intentional), which states that every 18-24 months the number of transistors capable of fitting on an integrated circuit doubles. It’s a thought-provoking statement.
So why do we share online? The innate desire to connect, to feel part of something larger, the promise of being discovered, the possibility of immortality in the digital realm as a hedge against our own mortality? Everyone has different reasons. Certainly for the younger internet users, the question isn’t why, it’s why not. This is the post-reactionary generation; the internet users that don’t dwell on the division between online and offline worlds. They see the internet as part of one fluid online-offline existence. Who hasn’t heard of a shocked parent chastising a teenager for posting intimate online information? Younger internet users simply have a higher threshold for acceptable exposure. Plus, when it comes to freedom, logging on to the internet has become the modern day equivalent of getting the keys the the car. As teenagers, don’t we all want to see how fast the car can go?
If we can possibly fulfill Zuckerberg’s prophecy, it will be the younger users that drive the trend, and the savvy entrepreneurs that make it happen. This entails not only enabling the sharing of new types of information seemlessly (real-time video, heart-rate, genome, gps location, etc..), but finding new ways to make it captivating and navigable once it’s uploaded (this is where avatars with AI technology can really start to make things interesting).

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Google Floats Plans For Wave Powered Data Center

Google's continued dominance of online search and advertising depends largely on it's ability to store and utilize MASSIVE amounts of data. The servers that house this data are notorious energy guzzlers (1.5% of all US energy goes to data centers by some estimates). It's not suprising then, that google has gotten into alternative energy.
Recently, the internet titan has unveiled plans to house their data centers miles offshore, on floating barges. The benefits includes virtually free real estate, natural wave and wind energy, and ocean waters to cool the servers.
In reading about this ambitious plan I can't shake the image of the google barge tossed around in a 100-year Pacific storm, getting pounded by a rogue wave and sinking like a rock. It makes you reevaluate the percieved permanence of the digital world. The "internet cloud" often seems intangible, floating, and divorced from the material world. But in reality our virtual lives are very dependent on the real-life, physical servers that make them possible. I have heard rumors of patents for indestructible, self-repairing (waterproof?) server systems...which is encouraging, especially if they're bobbing around in the Pacific.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Contact Lens Could Bring Internet Closer

The contact lenses, implanted with circuits, and developed at the University of Washington, allow the user to view displays while maintaining their focus on the real world. The researchers hope to add wireless communication to the lens and in the future, they say, an individual could surf the Internet on a midair virtual display screen that only they would be able to see. If the lens is the iphone format in ten years, it would for the most part eliminate the value of memorized knowledge – who needs it when the internet is in your eyeball – and put much more emphasis on the creative utilization and synthesis of that knowledge (this is already happening of course). And, our conversational edicate would require some redefinition (this is already happening to I suppose..."stop texting while I am talking to you!")

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Video Clip Special

The world of robotics offers myriad costume options this halloween...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The World Series Of Computer Programming

Elbot (left) captured first prize at this year's Turing test (video). Ryan Howard (right) helped the Phillies win this year's World Series.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Today, Google Smarter; Tomorrow, Upload The Entire Internet To Your Brain

Some helpful tips for smarter searching, courtesy of Wired (more on uploading the internet to your brain soon).

Get good sources. Add "site:edu" or "site:gov" to limit your search to school or government domains. To target specific sites, type, say, "neutrino"

Convert currency and units. Easy: "12 parsecs in light years" or "12 dollars in euros," for example.

Check your stocks. Take a deep breath, then enter a ticker symbol to see a real-time quote.

Narrow by file type. To find PowerPoints, Excel spreadsheets, or books scanned into PDFs, add "filetype:ppt" (or any other extension) to your query.

Search ranges. Use two periods between two numbers, like "Wii $200..$300."

Expect flight delays. Type in the airline, then your flight number.

Define yourself. To get the definition for a word, just type the word define: followed by the word. Include the colon and space.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Woman Sent to Jail After Virtual Killing

Virtual crime, very real consequences. Full BBC story here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rappers Use Robot Voices To Talk About Feelings

When Bob Dylan "went electric" at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival, fans were (allegedly) in tears. The controversy was this: how could a pillar of folksy authenticity take up a less-human, futuristic, piece of technology known as the electric guitar. Robots and trees just don't mix, so to speak.

Hip-hop, by in large, does not have this kind of moral dilemma. Hip-hop was born in the age of the synthetic beat and the sample, and as a result, the usual schism between technology and authenticity seems much less relevant.

Of late, there has been a veritable explosion of hip-hop artists using phase vocoder technology to modulate the voice, making it sound like, what can only be described as "slightly robotic" (example here). Interestingly, many of the songs that employ the phase vocoder are about feelings. These songs are no doubt on the emotional (or emo) end of the hip-hop song spectrum.

Why is this? In some ways it is easier to get emotional through a text message than over the phone or in person. The"less-human" the form of communication, the more emotional we can get without feeling vulnerable. Maybe for these hip-hop icons, it's easier to get emotional when you sound like a robot.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Superorganism Meme Returns (Although It Never Really Left)

E.O. Wilson's new book reignites the superorganism debate. The issue of the superorganism is particularly relevant to cybernetics (and any discussion of emergence) because superorganisms seem to: "exhibit a form of distributed intelligence–a system in which many individual agents with limited intelligence and information are able to pool resources to accomplish a goal beyond the capabilities of the individuals."

Here, Wired recounts the history of the superorganism meme:

It became a powerful meme among computer geeks, as any Google search reveals. Programmers got to work building "ant-based" search and scheduling-optimization algorithms modeled on the foraging patterns of real-world ants. Cybervisionaries saw in the superorganism an ideal way of describing the networked global brain that they were just beginning to imagine. The idea meant the singularity might be nearer than anyone thought. Wired's Kevin Kelly drew on Wilson's theories for the conceptual framework of the Hive Mind, humanity's emerging cognitive interconnectedness. Even today, Kelly is writing about the One Machine and the Technium, a neologism he defines as "a superorganism of technology."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Oracle Chatbot

An interesting take on chatbots yields entertaining conversations: chatbot game.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fat Brain = Healthy Body

New research coming out of UCLA has shown a very strong correlation between the decay of myelin (the fatty electrical insulation surrounding the neurons that gives the brain its grayish color) and the decline of physical quickness as you age. Read the Science Daily article here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Machines Fool 25% Of Human Investigators!

(A.C.E conversing with human interrogator)

In 1950, the brilliant mathematician Alan Turing, devised the Turing test. He postulated that, "If, during text-based conversation, a machine is indistinguishable from a human, then it could be said to be 'thinking' and, therefore, could be attributed with intelligence" (note the phraseology: 'attributed with intelligence').
Since 1991 teams of researchers have been annually competing for a $100,000 Loebner prize, awarded to the first team to pass the Turing test.
This week in Reading, England, two teams of researchers presented A.C.Es (artificial conversational entities) that fooled the human investigators 25% of the time. That means that if the ACE conversed with 4 people, one of those people, based on the nature of the conversation, thought that they were conversing with a human – a huge acheivment considering the complexity and unpredictability of human conversation.
As teams of researchers edge closer to capturing that Loebner prize and passing the Turing test, web-based avatars like those created on, will become more and more advanced conversationally – there will come a point where your friends won't be able to tell whether or not they are chatting with you or your avatar. But the passing the Turing test won't just be a nifty accomplishment that makes your lifenaut avatar more life-like, it will represent a huge step toward creating machines that possess intelligence. Indeed, that's why Alan Turing proposed the test in the first place.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Bionic Woman, Part II

Yoky Matsuoka, a one time tennis prodigy and self-described "airhead," is now a MacArthur fellow and professor of neurobotics (a fusion of neuroscience and robotics) at the University of Washington. Matsuoka leads the charge to create advanced prosthetic limbs controlled by human thought. Learn about her story in this short Nova video and watch a short video on the 400 year old history of the quest to build robotic limbs.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bionic Woman

Emilie Simon, the French singer and composer of electronic music, performs tonight at the Cutting Room in NYC. Emilie studied contemporary musical research and production in Paris, where she developed an interest in bringing science and art together in order to "rejuvenate musical language."

Her arm controller, called the "Brissot," allows her to "remotely control, modulate, and transform her live voice through a series of controlled effects."

On stage Emilie strives for total control of her musical output - from beats to harmonies and modulations - while standing alone on stage (perhaps Neurosky's brainwave sensors are the next stage in Emilie's quest to bring science and art together).

Friday, October 10, 2008

Brainwave Sensors Enable Thought Control

A brief intro to brainwave capture:

1 Neurons communicate with electrical impulses

2 Research has shown that certain frequencies of electrical impulses (or brainwaves) correspond to unique emotive states

3 The development of bio-sensor headgear products (see Neurosky) for the consumer market promises to make it possible for an individual to measure, observe, play video games, and archive brainwaves (and emotive brain states)

4 The nascent technology can currently identify brain states of: awareness, meditative, or drowsiness, but as the technology progresses it should be able to identify increasingly nuanced brain states based on the unique brainwave patterns


Low-cost brainwave sensors would take personality capture to the next level. If designers make these devises discrete or stylish enough, the average consumer could record a variety of unique brainwaves throughout their day and upload them to a personality capture website (like lifenaut) in realtime - like a much advanced Twitter.

These devices have a great potential to bring the power of biofeedback to the masses. If you can see your brainwaves in real time, you can over time, learn to have greater control of moving in and out of these mindstates. Like the art installation Simmer Down Sprinter, the user could learn, through biofeedback, to enter a state of relaxation. Over time, the individual could become fluent in moving from a state of anxiety into a state of relaxed awareness.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"Find me a story with an exciting chase scene and a happy ending."

Google's take on Web 3.0:

"In coming years, computer processing, storage, and networking capabilities will continue up the steeply exponential curve they have followed for the past few decades. By 2019, parallel-processing computer clusters will be 50 to 100 times more powerful in most respects. Computer programs, more of them web-based, will evolve to take advantage of this newfound power, and Internet usage will also grow: more people online, doing more things, using more advanced and responsive applications. By any metric, the "cloud" of computational resources and online data and content will grow very rapidly for a long time.

As we're already seeing, people will interact with the cloud using a plethora of devices: PCs, mobile phones and PDAs, and games. But we'll also see a rush of new devices customized to particular applications, and more environmental sensors and actuators, all sending and receiving data via the cloud. The increasing number and diversity of interactions will not only direct more information to the cloud, they will also provide valuable information on how people and systems think and react.

Thus, computer systems will have greater opportunity to learn from the collective behavior of billions of humans. They will get smarter, gleaning relationships between objects, nuances, intentions, meanings, and other deep conceptual information. Today's Google search uses an early form of this approach, but in the future many more systems will be able to benefit from it.

What does this mean to Google? For starters, even better search. We could train our systems to discern not only the characters or place names in a YouTube video or a book, for example, but also to recognize the plot or the symbolism. The potential result would be a kind of conceptual search: "Find me a story with an exciting chase scene and a happy ending." As systems are allowed to learn from interactions at an individual level, they can provide results customized to an individual's situational needs: where they are located, what time of day it is, what they are doing. And translation and multi-modal systems will also be feasible, so people speaking one language can seamlessly interact with people and information in other languages."

From The Official Google Blog

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I Respect You, I Love You, I Am Absolutely Terrified Of You

What is the status of the robot in American popular culture? We fear them (Terminator), we respect their intelligence and befriend them but consider them ultimately dangerous (2001: A Space Odyssey, I Robot), we find them adorable (RJD2, Wall-E), we idolize them (Optimus Prime), and finally, we see them as modern sirens (Austin Powers' Fembots).

The design of the robot is of vital importance. It is the designer who helps realize the robot's potential for good, by translating the incomprehensible robotic technology into the language of humanity. For robots to interact beneficially with humans in the future, designers must make them holistically likeable, trustworthy, respectable. At the design stage, a new robot becomes either a Zune or an Ipod, a Wall-E or a Terminator.

Take a look at this Youtube video depicting a nanobot replacing a human neuron. Although the technology is years off, this process has enormous medical potential. Patients with ailing brain cells could recieve nanobots replacements with identical signalling capacity – think of these neuron nanobots as the pacemakers of the brain. If the technology advanced sufficiently, I would be theoretically possible to replace each neuron with a nanobot, leaving an individuals unique brain architecture fundamentally sound – like replacing a wooden boat, one board at a time.

But how can you view this video without being terrified!? Is there not something inherently frightening in watching that nanobot spring tentacles and wind its way up the axon like a sinister kudzu vine? And why is the video so dark? A sentinel (from the Matrix) could swim by and not look out of place in this video.

If we want people to embrace this sort of technology we must think about aesthetics and design. It sometimes hard for scientists to think like this, but it's important.

Guranteed Exposure?

On January 25th, 2007 my roommate Paul uploaded this 4 second long video titled: Big Smereka Yells At The Smaller Two. It currently has 305 views.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Enemies Of Insight: Stress, Anxiety, Fear

The creative mind wields the power of creation via inspiration and imagination. But where does the revolutionary artistic or scientific insight come from? True insights arrive so unexpectedly and inexplicably, it’s no wonder we see them as otherworldly, divine.

But if we can’t control the arrival of the insight, we can at least pursue a mental state most hospitable for the incubation of insight.

In Jonah Lehrer’s New Yorker article, “The Eureka Hunt,” he explains that:

“Once the brain is sufficiently focused on the problem, the cortex needs to relax, to seek out the more remote association in the right hemisphere that will provide the insight…”

This relaxation state, characterized by low-level brain waves (3-8 Hz) is a prerequisite for insight (characterized by a quick burst of 40 Hz Gamma waves). It also helps explain why insights often come to us in the morning, in a warm shower, or on a walk, and why it’s nearly impossible to force a big idea in a state of stress, anxiety, or paralyzing fear.

A simple methodology of insight:

(i) preparation (preparatory work on a problem that focuses the individual's mind on the problem and explores the problem's dimensions)

(ii) incubation (where the problem is internalized into the unconscious mind and nothing appears externally to be happening)

(iii) intimation (the creative person gets a 'feeling' that a solution is on its way)

(iv) illumination or insight (where the creative idea bursts forth from its preconscious processing into conscious awareness)

(v) verification (where the idea is consciously verified, elaborated, and then applied)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Steve Mann, Cyborg Man

Steve Mann of the University of Toronto invented the terms "sousveillance" and "glogging"...which is what happens when cyborgs blog, vlog, or flog.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Consequences Of Digitial Intimacy

NYtimes article by Clive Thompson uncovers some important insights about the new state of digital intimacy.

1. People often think they don't want the sort of omnipresent knowledge that comes with twitter and facebook feeds...until they sign up. Then, they find it intriguing and addictive.

2. Twitter and Facebook's scrolling wall spread trends quickly - more quickly than blogs.

3. Individual "tweets" are insignificant on their own, but when you track them over time, real understanding and intimacy with a person develops (another example of emergent property).

4. When you post updates about yourself, the process of posting forces you to view them objectively, and to contemplate them. So, "in the age of awareness, perhaps the person you see most clearly is yourself."

Friday, September 5, 2008

Neurons Observed Recalling Memory

Image: From the New York Times

It has long been theorized that the same neurons that fire as the memory is stored, fire as the memory is recalled. Researchers have, for the first time, observed this phenomenon. The finding is a huge stride forward for understanding exactly how a memory is stored and brought back to life.

Roboticists Ask Hollywood For Help

Roboticists are reaching out to Hollywood creators for tips on making likable robots.
The RO-MAN conference addresses the fundamental issues of robot-human interactions, including ways to design the robots for enthusiastic human acceptance.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Jeff Stibel On The Brain/Internet

The brain - internet analogy gains ground everyday. It's potentially quite fruitful for businesses and small internet start-ups to think of the internet as a brain.

Drawing the google homepage from memory with eyes closed.

Monday, August 25, 2008

This Might Be The Birth Of A New Genre

Great example of how web 2.0 has permeated generation Y's social life and understanding of connectivity and self promotion. This song has to break the record for most internet references. Not only does 20 year old Charles Hamilton rap over a Windows computer jingle (you'll recognize it), the entire chorus consists of a list of his various blogs, profile pages, and websites. "Log me," he says. Later he wishes viruses upon his haters' blogs.

The Rat-Brained Robots

Scientists at the University of Reading
are experimenting with robots controlled wirelessly by a collection of rat neurons. The 300,000 or so neurons, harvested from rat fetuses, are housed in warmed broth of nutrients.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dan Dennett On The Awesome Power Of The Meme

Meme's are units of cultural evolution. We are their hosts.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Beme: Youtube And The Consequences of Context Collapse

Mike Wesch, anthropologist at Kansas State University, speaks to the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Beme: Studies Uncover Key To Living Longer

Genetic researchers have discovered how calorie restriction increases lifespan in mice and rat populations. It's the same reason those few centenarians can somehow eat cheeseburgers their whole lives and turn out just fine.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Beme: Our Brains React Differently To A.I.

MRI scans show
that our brains don't exhibit activity in the area of the brain responsible for understanding someone's perspective when we observe a machine solving a problem. But what if the machine was super cute? Or took the form of a lifelike avatar a la The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.

Thursday, August 7, 2008